The Argument for a Single Lube Supplier

Wes Cash, Noria Corporation

While choosing the proper lubricant is the first important step in any lubricant selection process, a similar amount of consideration should be given to picking the correct lubricant supplier as well. Your objectives or reasons for switching lubricants or adding a new lubricant to your inventory are also important parts of your decision. In fact, this process should be viewed as an opportunity. It is a chance to form a strategic relationship with an outside organization that will help you achieve goals, not only in lubrication, but in reliability as well.

Partnership

The ideal lubricant supplier should be more of a partner in success rather than a transactional figure. The process of purchasing lubricants should be thought of as a partnership in the supply chain of the oil or grease that needs to be applied to the machinery. The supplier plays a key role in this partnership. The lubricant manufacturer likely ships their product to their suppliers, who hold an inventory of those products on hand to be delivered to their customers when demand arises. This means there are warehousing activities for packaged lubricants that must be performed properly as well as decontamination and contamination control best practices that must be adhered to for any bulk lubricants. Since the supplier will be handling all the lubricants prior to them arriving at your plant, you want to make sure they share your vision and goals for controlling the lubricant properties and storage conditions. While this may sound trivial, it does ensure that the partnership aspect of the relationship isn’t overlooked. There are many services and processes that the supplier may be able to offer that make the work much more manageable for your on-site lube team. This mutual relationship helps ensure that the supplier, the customer and the equipment all win.

Why you may want one supplier

There are many reasons why it is common for facilities to use multiple lubricant suppliers. For some, there are specialized pieces of equipment that may take specialized lubricants or specific brands. When these lubricants are outside the normal brands your supplier carries, it is common for plants to use multiple lubricant suppliers to cover these needs. When new equipment is under a warranty period and the lubricant is specified by the manufacturer, some are reluctant to deviate from that specification as well. Ideally, the plant should have a single lubricant supplier that is able to provide all the lubricants necessary to cover the normal usage in the plant. Some take it a step further and select a single supplier of lubricants corporate-wide instead of relying on regional agreements to be established. Regardless of the scope of the change or its motivation, there are many benefits to having a single supplier rather than multiple.

Reduce the number of vendors

Having multiple vendors creates more work for accounting, purchasing and receiving teams. By reducing the number of lubricant vendors, you streamline the whole purchasing and receiving process.

Reduce the number of discrete purchase orders

Each purchase order represents an item that must be tracked, accounted for and closed out. It requires staff oversight as well as administration to ensure they get issued and charged against properly. Having a single supplier creates an opportunity for a more open purchase order with less oversight required.

Improve pricing though consolidation and volume buying

As you purchase from a single supplier, there are opportunities to consolidate your product inventory and potentially negotiate volume discounts based upon your usage. This is even further magnified when the contract involves a corporate account rather than just a single plant account.

Improve access to service through consolidation

Most suppliers will have technical specialists to provide support or service to accounts that purchase their lubricants. Often, their time is prioritized based upon volume or purchases per account. Having a single supplier could move you into having a more direct line to technical specialists or even having a dedicated specialist for your account.

Improve quality of products purchased

It is common to put quality standards in place for lubricants being delivered. You may want to request a specific cleanliness or dryness of incoming lubes as well as a preferred delivery method. Working with a single supplier may allow you to get “fresher” lubricants as opposed to inventory that may have become aged and possibly compromised while sitting in a warehouse.

Improve delivery commitment

Lead time on lubricants and product-on-hand can become issues, especially during unplanned events such as leaks or failures. Working with a single supplier to have enough stock or a more direct line to the lubricant manufacturer can help mitigate these risks.

Questions to Ask About New Lubricant Suppliers

Choosing a supplier is not a decision to be made lightly. It shouldn’t be based solely on price, but rather a collection of many variables to ensure that you are getting the quality or product and service that you need. Each facility or corporation may have different opinions on what would be the most important aspect of a lubricant supplier. It is important that you develop a selection committee and decide what factors will go into your decision process. Once the factors are decided on, they should be weighted and then you can begin to interview prospective suppliers and determine which one is the best fit for your organization. Below are some questions to ask yourself when selecting a supplier.

What are the supplier’s capacities?

The supplier should not only be able to produce enough finished lubricant, but also have the packaged inventory to meet the normal demands of the plant or the corporate account. This normally isn’t an issue if the supplier manufactures their own lubricant. If they rely on a third party to manufacture the products, it can cause some problems on occasion.

What blending facility locations are available?

Ideally the blending plants of the finished lubricants will be geographically convenient in relation to the plant. Having a blend facility within a day’s drive can help with emergency deliveries and certainly mitigate issues with extensive lead times for products. It is also good to have multiple blending facilities to help with additional capacity if needed.

What are their distributor warehousing standards?

The distributor network of the supplier should be analyzed, not only for proximity in relation to the plant but also their quality assurance standards. The distributors should understand the importance of cleanliness and supplying fresh lubricants that are unaltered by storage conditions. Performing audits on the distributor warehouses is a great plan to ensure they are handling the lubricants in an ideal manner.

Do they have a global supply chain?

This is very important for corporate agreements that span multiple continents. There are lubricant suppliers that have a global reach, but there are many that don’t. If you are building a global corporate contract, this item should be highly considered in the decision process.

Do they offer similar products, such as fuels, chemicals, or solvents?

Many of the same benefits that come with a single lubricant supplier can be extended to using a single supplier of other materials. If the chosen supplier can provide other products that further streamline your supply chain, you may find even greater benefits. Other products, for example, can be process chemicals, solvents, fuels and other items that may be used outside the standard lubrication program.

How diverse is their product line?

To help ensure that the supplier has products that not only meet all your current machinery needs, you may look to see how diverse the full product catalogue is as it pertains to planned future growth areas of your facility. For instance, if you are planning to take on fleet maintenance of mobile equipment or are adding a new production line that requires food-grade lubricants, selecting a supplier with a broad product line could increase efficiency and save money.

Are they approved by your OEMs?

If you have equipment that is under warranty or prefer to stick with recommended lubricants from the OEM, you may want to select a supplier that has approvals from the equipment manufacturer. This can help avoid any issues when it comes to claims or even assuage the fears from engineering staff when installing new equipment.

Do they specialize in your industry?

Some suppliers produce specialized lubes for certain industries, processes, or even equipment. Asking if the candidate has any specialized lubricants can help in your decision. Also, the specializations may also be in the service or technical support aspects of their business. Both of these can be of benefit to your plant if your staff is lacking the knowledge and understanding of lubricants and lubrication.

What packaging and bulk delivery options do they offer?

Ease of delivery and transport of the lubricant within the plant impacts manpower, and potentially quality of the lubricant. The supplier should be able to deliver the lubricant in the appropriate volumes and in the appropriate container option to make reception and handling easier on your staff.

What is their reputation for quality and service?

This should be based on customer references as well as any reviews that can be found with trusted organizations. Choose a supplier that not only meets all the other demands of the contracts but also has a good reputation for quality and customer service.

What experiences have you had with this supplier in the past?

If you have used the supplier in the past, make a list of the pros and cons of their service and quality. Also review your current lubricants to determine if you are already utilizing a significant volume of a particular brand. These can guide the decision to determine if a single supplier is a good fit for your organization. While there are many aspects to selecting a lubricant supplier, ultimately it is a decision that you must make to benefit your equipment, staff, and organization as a whole. Few partnerships have the ability to impact the reliability of your machinery more than your lubricant supplier. Building a relationship that is founded on quality products and quality service can serve as a foundation for a world-class lubrication program. With a great lubricant supplier and a detailed development plan, you can achieve the transformative cost savings and reliability improvements of world-class lubrication in your plant.

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About the Author

Wes Cash is the director of technical services for Noria Corporation. He serves as a senior technical consultant for Lubrication Program Development projects and as a senior instructor for ...